Nurturing the Soul Course

By Helen Brown published by spiritualwisdom.org.uk © July 2009 pp 75 £9.95 Enquiries:  contact editor@spiritualquestions.org.uk

Helen also leads groups taking this course. The aim is primarily to encourage reflection, experience and exploration of what our ‘soul’ means for each of us. The scope of the course includes music, art, prayer, meditation and energy medicine.

This has been a course that was both inspirational and challenging.  Throughout the eight sessions in our exploration of the ‘soul’, Helen gently guided us along an inner path in keeping with her book on the subject.

We were a small group who throughout our time together formed a very supportive and close connection.  At the beginning of each session we sat round a table where there was always a simple but beautiful delicate arrangement of flowers and leaves encircling a candle.  As we lit the candle and concentrated on the light we left behind the outside world, forming our own peaceful and tranquil world through meditation and prayer.  This made a perfect start to our spiritual journey, discovering and connecting with our own soul.  During the course we were encouraged to follow our own path freely, expressing and sharing our thoughts and feelings.  It brought in music, art, prayer, meditation and specially chosen readings to help in this search and nourishment of our own soul.

It was suggested by Helen that we should keep a journal where we can reflect on the course as it unfolds, giving time for more thought.  I chose an artist’s journal as I find both illustrating and writing stimulating.

In the quest for the soul I found I was becoming more attuned with my inner self, gaining a deeper understanding of what this long journey involved.  There were parts which were challenging and painful; complex issues had to be confronted before moving on.  Throughout the sessions this was balanced with the uplifting realization that the soul is a recipient of life from God and that the Divine flows in with Love and Wisdom.  The soul is a sacred place where God dwells.  This knowledge is inspirational, but before we can find and nurture the soul we have first to reach down into the recesses of ourselves, seek and find God and with love bring Him into our daily lives, letting His light shine in our hearts.

I have found this course exhilarating and plan to continue with this spiritual journey.

As we sat around the table for our last meditation, it came to me that our group represented a lotus flower.  I visualized each one of us as petals of the flower joined together as one with the candle in the centre radiating light.  As we lent forward to blow out the flame we sent love and peace to the world.

“OM.  In the centre of the castle of Brahman, our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus-flower and within can be found a small space, we should find who dwells there, and we should want to know him” (Chandogya Upanishad).

Rosella Williams, Course member

Here are some additional comments from others in the group: ‘its been a spiritual journey, a journey of discovery’, ‘ I found it opened doors and brought up things that I hadn’t thought about before’, ‘enlightening’, ‘gave me peaceful thoughts – we shared the journey’, ‘helpful and reassuring’.

Mary and Martha – Are they in you?

Ever noticed someone in your team not pulling their weight, whilst you are working hard to get the job done properly? I remember one day when my side of the family were visiting us. I was expecting my wife to do all the practical things that needed doing whilst I just sat chatting. I even asked her to get the coffee for us. No wonder she got a bit shirty with me. I suppose I was just being a brother and son rather than doing the practical jobs of a husband and joint host. I’d got the balance wrong. This reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha.

The story of Mary and Martha

The biblical story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. Two sisters have Jesus Christ as a visitor to their home. With which of these two ladies do you sympathise? Martha who was concerned to prepare a meal and make their guest comfortable or Mary who wanted to sit at the spiritual teacher’s feet listening to him. No wonder Martha complained to him about Mary leaving her to do the work by herself.

Mary and Martha Mary and Martha in us

If we don’t do the laundry or other jobs around the house then we just get smelly clothes, cobwebs, long grass and weeds. It’s all very well for people to say you need to stop and take a break or else your batteries will become drained. At the end of the day, the dishes still need to be done and the car maintained. They won’t do themselves.

Regarding Mary and Martha, people have often felt that Jesus was favouring one and being unfair to the other who was doing all the work. Many of us faced with the demands of family and work just have to get on with it. Yet Martha seems to have been brought down a peg for doing just that. What could he have meant when he said that Mary had chosen better? How can it be right to neglect what needs doing?

“Perhaps Martha isn’t being brought down or put in her place, so much as being given the opportunity to sit down and get some space.”(Sarah Buteux, Swedenborgian minister)

I would suggest that there is a Mary and Martha in each one of us. Having a Martha active in your psyche is positive when you lead an active useful life. But negative when prioritising the outward side of life and as a consequence being upset by worldly cares – getting hot and bothered when over-concerned with doing things well or not missing out on some detail.

Mary and Martha and a vision

Emanuel Swedenborg reported having a vision of a large room. with furniture there and a long hallway leading from it. Through this he said he saw a woman, small in stature and ugly, who was going out. When he asked what the vision meant he claims he was told (presumably by angels) that it was about those individuals who when alive in the world had over-zealously devoted themselves to household chores. Apparently after death they occupy dwellings like this in the spirit realm and remain engrossed in their domestic concerns neglecting ‘like Martha’, the spiritual dimension.

When you are taken up with what you are doing, how often do you find yourself trying so hard to please and giving everything you have, to see that the work gets done? But then finding at the end of the day that the joy you should have felt, the peace you should have earned, and the rest you so deserved, is just out of reach. Rather than fulfilment, you feel only stress and frustration. Perhaps that is the time to remember the Mary and Martha story.

Mary and Martha and the need for being still

For many people into day’s Western culture, it is common to become so absorbed in the work of the world, that one’s inner contemplative self is lost.   I would say that to connect with this deeper awareness we need times of letting go of all “doing,” — just allowing ourselves to “be.”  In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes of an incessant mental noise in our ordinary consciousness which prevents awareness of an inner realm of stillness.

Many people recognise the need to create time for a meaningful connection with the deeper side of being, reflecting on the values and things we hold sacred, and being mindful of the situations we are encountering. In this way the pace of life can reduce.

Mary and Martha and spiritual practices

There are all sorts of ways of creating time for being in touch with the deeper side. The regular habit of taking the dog for a walk along a country path is conducive to this. It’s hard to be distracted by worldly cares when one is playing the piano or singing a song. Some people reserve a few minutes quiet time for reflection perhaps over a morning coffee before the working day starts or sitting on a bench in the park or whilst waiting for the train to commute to the office.

The skill of stilling the mind can be acquired through regular meditation. One type of meditation is focusing on one neutral thing and neglecting to attend to all other sensations and thoughts that enter consciousness. This is said to clear the mind and opens it to a higher state. Another type of meditation is allowing one’s awareness to be led by a series of visualised images often of a sacred nature.

In these ways we disengage from the worldly worries that are associated with what we do to earn a living, maintain a home, support a family etc.

Religious perspective on Mary and Martha

Every religion teaches the need to slow down in order to connect with the self, with others and with a higher force. The Bible says

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

In the Mary and Martha narrative, Mary was seeing things from a higher perspective than that of the world. Does she not represent a point of view that accepts there is a divine hand supporting all our good actions and intentions? An awareness, I would suggest, that experiences hope and encouragement no matter what challenges and adversity one has to face. To my mind this is a state of spiritual being that never shirks the work to be done. It reminds me that the world around me, with its requirements, is not a burden I  have to bear but a gift to help me grow inwardly.

I believe that the story of Mary and Martha prompts us to create moments when we can reflect on our spiritual understanding of the ‘Divine within’ rather than being caught up by the demands of the world. In so doing we are said to find the tranquillity of ‘peace that passes all understanding’

Copyright 2016 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hand

Posted on14th February 2016CategoriesLatest post, Spiritual awareness, Spiritual healingTags, , , ,

True self – How to attain it?

true selfPeople often think that human beings are inherently good. And that personal development simply involves getting in touch with one’s true self. In addition, they see this true self as the potential within us all for being truly good. A life, filled with compassion, joy and peace, defines the true design of each individual.

However, there is a lot of unhappiness around – a far cry from this idea of our true self. We are a bit of a mix. We switch from being generous to being selfish, from being fair to dishonest, from being conscientious to careless. Consequently, I think that unhappiness comes when we follow some of our own negative inclinations.

“We want to be important; we enjoy running people down because it makes us feel superior; we are easily hurt and feel vengeful if we do not get our ‘rights’; we are pleased if we can win an advantage over someone by slightly twisting the truth. And so on.” (Brian Kingslake, spiritual writer)

If no one is perfect then we all need to make some sort of spiritual progress. To find a way of attaining our true self.

How can we do this?   Students of comparative religion have discovered that very similar experiences may be subjected to different and incompatible explanations, according to the spiritual tradition one is familiar with.

Mindfulness meditation and the true self

Mindfulness meditation involves being aware of the various thoughts that enter consciousness. It also requires the person to stay in the observer role without emotionally engaging or identifying with these thoughts. A hard thing to do without much practice.

Initially, without realising it, the myriad concerns and pre-occupations of the unruly mind capture one’s attention . Uncomfortable feelings predominate as we become more self-aware and start to realise the frequency of our anxious and judgmental thoughts. As mindfulness practice becomes firmly embedded in one’s life, although difficult thoughts and feelings still arise, they possess us less often. One can now usually make the conscious choice not to let them overwhelm one.

Eventually, one meets situations, that would have once created anxiety, depression, anger or frustration, with acceptance and equanimity. One gets glimpses of deep peace and clarity that can occur during meditation or arise spontaneously during everyday life.

Confessional prayer and the true self.

Another spiritual practice is confessional prayer. By this I mean an inner conversation with one’s image of a loving Divine Being. It involves honestly acknowledging one’s shortcomings in terms of one’s inner conscience and having genuine remorse. Those who feel a sense of guilt say they experience a sense of forgiveness.

If asking for inner strength in prayer, one can feel greatly encouraged and uplifted in one’s spiritual struggle. I believe that for this spiritual practice to work, two things need to be present. Firstly, resisting the impulse to fall into the same old bad ways. Secondly, acknowledging that the power to do so comes from the Divine Being working in one.

Over-reliance on the head and the true self

Some adherents, of whatever spiritual practice followed, rely on their beliefs for producing spiritual progress. They value the understanding of the head to guide their way forward.

Things can go off-track however with this.

The Pharisees in the Palestine in Christ’s day believed in the Jewish teachings about spiritual living but nevertheless had little or no love for others in their hearts. Consequently, the ‘faith alone’ in their thinking was not enough.

True self
D.T.Suzuki

In the Buddhist tradition, right thinking is not sufficient for the attainment of nirvana.

“No matter how much someone’s understanding advances, when it is not accompanied by feeling, it will hinder that person’s spiritual progress.” (D.T Suzuki Buddhist scholar)

Over-reliance on the hands and the true self

There are those who primarily rely on charitable deeds or spiritual rituals for their spiritual progress. People around them may see them as ‘do-gooders’. The trouble, with this practical hands-on approach to attaining one’s true self, is that all sorts of good actions can sometimes be due to un-spiritual motivations. Hidden desires for future rewards, wanting to look good, to feel superior, or to get one’s own way. One can pay lip service to ways of acting without any change in underlying attitude. The attitude change is a turning round. Facing towards self is being egotistical and prioritising pleasure. The opposite is turning around to look towards the needs of others. Prayer and meditation are no good without this changed attitude.

“Repentance of the lips, and not of the life is not repentance.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, theologian)  

Over-reliance on the heart and the true self

There are also those who over-rely on their good feelings to attain spiritual progress. They may talk a lot about loving intentions and feel that human happiness results only from such feelings. However without regular application and wise thinking such an attitude is in danger of descending into sentimentality.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In other words, when we procrastinate, our good intentions that lack practical application are of little use. It would be a bit like practicing mindfulness meditation without the rest of the time adopting a mindful attitude. Also, without the guidance of enlightened understanding, even with good intentions, one can be easily sidetracked into unwise actions and mistaken avenues with unforeseen consequences.

Head, hands and hands all needed for attaining the true self

I would say enlightened thoughts alone, good deeds alone or feelings alone don’t lead to the true self.

“Both (Mahayana Buddhism and Swedenborgianism) deny that salvation is effected by performing rituals, or faith alone, or deeds alone, or even by having mystical experiences.” (David Loy, scholar of comparative religion)

According to this view, how we inwardly live our life on a daily basis makes us what we are.

I conclude that whatever one’s spiritual tradition and spiritual practices, it is loving intentions put into practice and guided by right ways of thinking that lead to attaining the true self.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on27th January 2017CategoriesHealing attitudes, Latest post, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , ,,